Romeo and Juliet

  • Wednesday 20th April, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Romeo and Juliet Overture, 21′
  • Bernstein  West Side Story – Symphonic Dances , 23′
  • Prokofiev  Romeo and Juliet – highlights , 50′

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” But whether we’re talking Montagues and Capulets or Nureyev and Fonteyn, medieval Verona or New York gangland, one thing’s for sure: Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers have inspired some truly glorious music. Tchaikovsky’s impassioned overture, Bernstein’s explosive dances and Prokofiev’s bittersweet ballet: guest conductor Lahav Shani will commit to each of them, body and soul.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Shani and the CBSO gave a vivid account of the music. As the Jets and Sharks strutted their stuff in the ‘Prologue’ the playing was at first incisive and sassy and then brash and exciting, the bongos beating out frenetic tattoos. Shani ensured that ‘Somewhere’ was suitably yearning while the Coplandesque ‘Scherzo’ was light on its feet. The percussion section drove ‘Mambo’ along in manic style and as the movement reached its exuberant conclusion the CBSO trumpeters had a field day, blowing, as they say, mean horns. The sultry rhythms of ‘Cha Cha’ were well inflected. The ‘Cool’ Fugue is a terrific invention: who but Bernstein would have thought to introduce a 12-tone, rigorous fugue into a Broadway show – and who but Lennie would have made it so gripping? This section, above all, is where you realize how musically advanced West Side Story is. Shani built the music powerfully, generating a strident climax. ‘Rumble’ is just as advanced in terms of Broadway music; here it was done with great panache. Finally, the tender, tragic ending was really well done, the CBSO strings playing with great sensitivity.

Another Russian take on Romeo and Juliet followed the interval. A couple of years ago Andris Nelsons and the CBSO played a selection of numbers from Prokofiev’s great ballet score (review). Here Lahav Shani offered a selection that contained many of the same pieces. I remember that I greatly enjoyed the Nelsons concert and Shani’s performance was another fine one. Like Nelsons, his selection included many movements that lie at the heart of the drama but both conductors sensibly interspersed two or three of the lighter dance movements.

The start of Shani’s performance – ‘Montagues and Capulets’ – augured well, the massive dissonant chords built thrillingly and, at their peak, thrust home with great power. In the same movement we had the lumbering Knights’ Dance but also passages of much greater delicacy. ‘The Young Girl Juliet’ began with scampering eagerness but when Prokofiev shows us the more thoughtful side of her nature Shani was just as adept in bringing out the nature of the music. The ‘Balcony Scene began with a lovely depiction of a moonlit night from the CBSO. At the start of the encounter between the two young lovers I admired very much the lustrous tone of the cello section, and then the violins took over and sent the music soaring to the heights. Under Shani’s enthusiastic leadership the orchestra invested the music with ardour and romantic sweep but just as impressive was the spellbinding clarity that the players brought to Prokofiev’s magical scoring at the end.

From ardent young love we moved to violence with ‘The Death of Tybalt’. This was vivid and dramatic. The fight itself was fast and furious; no quarter was given. After Tybalt had been slain his body was borne off with shattering power.”     …

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack: (for same programme on 23rd April)

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky‘s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was his third attempt at this subject but was still one of his early works. Its substantial introduction opens with solemn woodwind foreshadowing Friar Laurence’s fateful involvement then moves into pugnacious, jagged music, the irregular accents conjuring up flashing swords and setting up the conflict with a bang. Brass and percussion, particularly cymbals, were in their element while Shani showed both great enthusiasm and control over the build-up of volume and intensity. Furious bowing from the strings added a visual reference point as you could just imagine weapons flying. The audience was well and truly hooked.

A complete change of colour occurred with the move into the luscious love theme: tempo, dynamic, articulation and melody producing a heart-stopping plaintive contrast with the clash and clamour of the previous scene.  A delicate harp spoke of moonlight shining on Juliet’s balcony. Shani urged the players to heights of tenderness, just as much as total involvement in the foreboding of eerie chords and fateful trumpets pealing out the Friar Laurence theme again as the tragedy unfolds. The funeral march coda, prefaced with menacing cello, brought the piece to a carefully-placed, emotionally-charged ending.”     …

 

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American Classics with Freddy Kempf

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Wednesday 28th January 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Freddy Kempf  piano

Bernstein: Divertimento 14′
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F 29′
Listen on Spotify

Korngold: Symphony in F Sharp 53′
Listen on Spotify

A symphony from the New World… with a difference. Mahler declared Erich Korngold a genius, but Hitler had other ideas – and from exile in California, Korngold poured out all his hopes and sorrows in 53 minutes of grand, heartbroken passion. It’s a wonderful counterpart to Bernstein’s hilarious Divertimento and the irresistible jazz-age melodies of Gershwin’s “skyscraper concerto”, played by one of Britain’s favourite pianists.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Near the end Gershwin pares everything back to just a solo flute and the pianist, quietly duetting as if they were the last people left in a downtown bar late one night. Here Marie-Christine Zupancic and Kempf were quite magical in partnership. There was vitality and drive in the colourful finale. Kempf offered sparkling playing but, as in the Bernstein, I didn’t quite feel the orchestra were encouraged by Michael Seal to be quite as unbuttoned as the music demands. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable account of the concerto

 Erich Wolfgang Korngold attracted great attention as a youthful prodigy in Vienna. In the 1930s he made a new home in America where he put his prodigious talent to work writing many notable movie scores in Hollywood. Yet despite his success in the cinema Korngold continued to write concert music also. His only symphony was completed in 1951. It is an elusive work in the sense that opportunities to hear live performances are rare indeed. I first became acquainted with it through Rudolf Kempe’s pioneering 1972 recording – the MusicWeb International review by Ian Lace is well worth reading, not least for much valuable background information.  There have been a number of subsequent recordings of the work – including one by Sir Edward Downes for Chandos  – but I’ve never had a chance to hear it live until this evening.

 The symphony is scored for a large orchestra, including a substantial percussion section, and the scoring is constantly interesting and resourceful. Among many features that catch the listener’s ear are the percussive use of piano and marimba, especially in the first movement, and the rather spooky end to that movement, including col legno work by the strings. It was one of the achievements of this performance that Michael Seal and the CBSO brought out all the colour and rhythmic ingenuity in the work.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The first winner was Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, a sparky masterpiece of sleight-of-hand wizardry bettering Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, allowing every section of the orchestra to shine (it was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, so there’s a topical connection, Andris Nelsons about to leave the CBSO for that band), and consummately delivered under the efficient and empowering baton of Michael Seal.

The second was George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, the greatest to emerge from the western hemisphere, so redolent of the aspirations of the United States, and delivered with idiomatic flair here by Freddy Kempf’s fleet pianism.

An initially staid orchestral contribution came to life once Kempf got going, the soloist positively encouraging attentive interplay between himself and the players, and his gorgeously singing cello-like tone in the lyrical episodes drawing an “anything you can do” response.

This was a performance radiating sheer pleasure, and will not easily be forgotten.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Enjoying audible rapport with the CBSO, Freddy Kempf knitted its various sections together convincingly – though this performance, as with the work itself, was at its best in the Adagio; its trumpet theme plaintively phrased by Jonathan Holland, with Kempf maintaining tension admirably in the brief central cadenza prior to an eloquent climax. He made the most of the finale’s review of earlier ideas as part of its agitated progress, and if the peroration seemed a mite underwhelming, the breezy coda did not lack for panache.

After the interval, a welcome hearing (the first-ever in Birmingham?) for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp of 1952. The composer’s most far-reaching attempt to recalibrate his innate late-Romanticism for the austere post-war era, it is a work fairly riven with contradiction for all that its ambition cannot be doubted. Seal had the measure of the initial Moderato with its bracing deployment of piano and percussion (not the only instance where Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony acts as a template), and purposeful interplay of its respectively ominous, yearning and poignant main themes. The quixotic Scherzo needed a little more agility for its acute contrasts in harmony and texture fully to register, but the Adagio was finely handled in terms of sombre emotions which reach a climax of tragic and consciously Mahlerian import prior to the resigned close.”     …

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Review by Owen Walton, OldMusicalCuriostiyShop:

Click here for full review

…     “Michael Seal, a passionate devotee of the composer, has waited some time to conduct the work in Birmingham and I for one am extremely grateful to him for being afforded the opportunity to hear the symphony live played by a world-class ensemble.

For that is the impression that this performance left; a truly astonishing display both of orchestral virtuosity and of commitment. We all know that British orchestras operate on a minimal rehearsal schedule and the results here were deeply impressive. There is no real Korngold tradition in Birmingham, the orchestra having performed his music for the first time in 1993 (the now ubiquitous Violin Concerto which would, arguably, have become a repertoire staple much earlier if it were not for the length of time it took for soloists capable of rivalling Heifetz in the work to emerge) and little else since. Considering, then, that this was a new work to the majority of players the results were a testament to their versatility and to Seal’s ability to galvanise his players.

Korngold wrote expertly for orchestra and the CBSO obviously relished the challenges that faced them in every department. The brass, in particular, now seem to have a sound when playing as a full section that is deep, dark and centred in the Concertgebouw mould (how different they sound than in the Rattle era). The strings start with a focussed bass section, rich celli, vibrant violas. The upper strings have a leanness (do not mistake this for undernourished) that make easy work of clarifying Korngold’s frequently dense close harmony writing. If the second movement scherzo was a feat of ensemble playing and expert crowd control, the dark heart of the work (the ensuing adagio) sang with an eloquence that was intensely moving when not shrieking with despair. Korngold’s own brand of wistful nostalgia, in which he brings to the fore fragments of what sound once popular Viennese songs brings to mind the sentiment of ‘Gluck mir das verblieb’ from Die Tote Stadt (Ich kenne das Lied/Ich hört es oft in jungen, in schöneren Tagen/ Es hat noch eine Strophe- weiß ich sie noch?). These small ideas seemed to materialise and fade away, half-remembered experiences of a happier time. It takes intelligence and an ear for orchestral balance for this to work.”     …

Friday Night Classics: A Gershwin and Bernstein Gala

FRIDAY NIGHT CLASSICS: A GERSHWIN AND BERNSTEIN GALA

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Friday 4 July 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael England  conductor
Leila Benn Harris  vocalist
Caroline Sheen  vocalist
Norman Bowman  vocalist
Victor Sangiorgio  piano

We are sorry to announce that Martin Yates has had to withdraw from this concert. We are grateful to Michael England for taking his place.

Gershwin:
Girl Crazy – Overture
Gershwin Medley • Summertime
I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise
I’ve Got a Crush on You
Promenade (Walking the Dog)
Swanee • The Man I Love
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
Fascinatin’ Rhythm • Rhapsody in Blue

Bernstein:
West Side Story: Mambo | Balcony Scene
Something’s Coming | Somewhere |
A Boy Like That

Candide: Overture

On the Town: Lonely Town |
Times Square 1944 |
I Can Cook Too |
Some Other Time |
Wonderful Town: A Little Bit in Love |
New York, New York

 

New York, New York! George Gershwin wrote the soundtrack to the Jazz Age Big Apple. Lennie Bernstein turned its mean streets into thrilling song and dance. Together, they add up to one fabulous night out on the Fourth of July in the greatest city on earth… Birmingham, of course! We’re talking songs like Summertime and Fascinatin’ Rhythm, and shows like West Side Story and On the Town, not forgetting the theme tune of Manhattan itself, Rhapsody in Blue. So let’s go – it’s a helluva town!

Produced in association with West End International Ltd.

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Review by Paul Marston, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Why? Because the three soloists, Leila Benn Harris, Caroline Sheen and Norman Bowman, made a much bigger impression in the second half of the programme when they were singing to Bernstein’s music . . . particularly the selection from West Side Story, including Tonight, Somewhere and A Boy Like That.

But, had there been an individual prize, it would surely have gone to the superb pianist, Victor Sangiorgio. Born in Sicily, he moved to Western Australia when he was four and gave his first public performance a year later.

At the end of the first act, he played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with a quality that earned rapturous applause from a large audience.

The CBSO played with their usual admirable skill throughout, and earned a special tribute from conductor England who praised ‘the versatility of this extraordinary orchestra’.”      …

Belshazzar’s Feast

  • Thumbnail     Raise the Roof

Saturday 26 April 2014 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

John Storgårds  conductor
Mark Stone  bass
William Gardner  treble
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: The Hymn of Jesus 23′
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms 19′
Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast 34′

1931: William Walton takes a huge choir and a massive symphony orchestra, adds a couple of brass bands – and blows English music sky-high. Big, brassy and shamelessly savage, Belshazzar’s Feast caused outrage back then, and it still knocks you backwards today! It’s a stunning showcase for the CBSO’s famous choruses; and John Storgårds gets things buzzing with two joyous choral classics by the composers behind West Side Story and The Planets. We think you’ll love them.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May
Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Thursday 26th June
Bluebeard’s Castle, Wednesday 2nd July

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Mark Stone sang the baritone role here, perfectly complementing the chorus and occasionally slowing down the action for a moment of reflection.

By its rousing Alleluias at the finale, there was no doubt that the chorus was thoroughly enjoying tackling the piece, which is not the easiest to carry off well.

There was also plenty of life in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Ever the showman, Bernstein may have taken the words from the Biblical Psalms but at times the pieces sound more akin to a music hall show than a church.

The Lord is My Shepherd has plenty of moments of calm and was beautifully sung by Trinity Boys Choir member William Gardner. But Bernstein quickly introduces a riot of percussion so we can almost imagine the chorus taking to the stage to dance in a West Side Story like showstopper. It was also a great opportunity for the CBSO to get to grips with lots of fun and exuberant music.”     …

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “When we get to Sitwell’s hymnic bit (‘God of Gold…God of Wood…God of Brass) – slightly improbable, but huge fun – we are saturated by a kind of corrupt Benedicite. Alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon get their look in; James Burke’s clarinet positively screeched with impropriety. Percussion snaps and blips, and clops from wood blocks, abound. A riot of (as the notes put it) ‘onomatopoeic’ colour. No wonder the Lord (Jahweh – on our side) took a dim view of it all.

The resplendent additional brass (Beecham’s idea: here two septets, I believe, arrayed along both sides, high up) that toasts Belshazzar’s bluffing celebrates God’s inevitable triumph. Weighed in the balance, the oriental despot meets his  sticky end (double basses, low woodwind, flibbertigibbet flutes and piccolo see him off with an almost Bartókian atonal savagery – shades of Bluebeard.)The full-blooded chorus remained splendid thereafter, though Walton doesn’t: the penultimate (or middle of ultimate) section sounds like the thinnest of note-spinning. Yet at ‘Then trumpeters and pipers are silent, and the harpers have ceased to harp…’ he redeems himself, writing for them an alluring sequence like some succulent church anthem by Leighton or Hewitt-Jones – or Walton himself (The Twelve).

The most relishable, perhaps thrilling achievement of Storgårds’ conducting of the Walton came at the culmination, where in the final build up or recap he has to maintain a firm four in a bar while the bravado chorus sings effectively in three. The result produces excitement of almost fugal intensity, without being remotely banal. As the composer pops in a few whole tone scales to underline their whooping, he must have been feeling pleased with himself; for we are treated to a distinct burst – a sneak preview – of his First Symphony (which he was poised to embark on). Either he thought it a jolly good idea, and reused it, or his symphonic notepad jottings were already getting crammed.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s many, many years since it has been my privilege to hear a concert as joyous as this one: three works, all with a religious impulse, and each approached from a different direction.

Full marks all round, but primarily to Simon Halsey’s remarkable CBSO Chorus celebrating 40 years of existence, and delivering Gnostic mysticism, Old Testament blood and guts, and Hebrew fervour (in the original language).     […]

[…] Storgards drew a thrilling reading from all these forces, chorus projecting with their customary clarity of diction, orchestra taut and rhythmic, and baritone soloist Mark Stone the most authoritative I have ever heard him. For technical nerds such as me, his maintenance of pitch in the lengthy unaccompanied passages was exemplary. This was an exhilarating performance.”

*****

Variations on America

Wednesday 15 May 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Matthew Coorey  conductor

Roderick Williams  baritone

Ives: Variations on America 7′

Herrmann: Suite from Psycho 10′

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′ Listen on Spotify

Adams: The Wound-Dresser 20′

Bernstein: Symphonic Dances (West Side Story) 23′ Listen on Spotify

Encore – Bernstein: Candide Overture

No country is as diverse as the USA – and that goes for its music too. But whether you’re walking Leonard Bernstein’s mean streets or deep in Aaron Copland’s green hills; whether you’re at the movies with Bernard Herrmann or searching a nation’s psyche with John Adams, you’re guaranteed sincere feelings, epic vistas and larger-than-life tunes. And, of course, fun – as conductor Matthew Coorey kicks off with Ives’s outrageous musical spoof of a tune that you might just recognise…

This concert coincides with the prestigious annual conference of the British American Business Council (BABC), taking place in Birmingham from 15–17 May 2013. www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The programme also featured a rare concert hall outing for Bernard Herrmann’s “narrative for string orchestra” from his score for Psycho. It was a thrilling to hear this fine symphonic film score played by a world-class symphony orchestra, particularly as it was film music that first drew me into the world of classical music. The attentiveness, throughout the concert, of the schoolchildren present suggested that at least a few more young people will hopefully follow in my footsteps.

Coorey’s highly disciplined conducting style ensured a taut attack in Herrmann’s irresistibly angsty “opening titles” scene. The string players of the CBSO clearly relished the Stravinskian writing, with numerous bow hairs lost in attrition as the suite progressed. Perhaps most recognisable of all is the graphic murder scene featuring those iconic and terrifying violin glissandos, which, the excellent programme note suggested, were a reference to Norman Bates’ taxidermic avian collection.  […]

[…]  Roderick Williams was the unflinching baritone protagonist, looking the audience squarely in the eye as he sang with a beautiful, creamy tone. Though the orchestral writing is characteristic of Adams, with its pulsing ostinatos and the addition of a synthesiser to more standard orchestral forces, the vocal line reminded me at times of Britten, who would surely have approved of setting this sort of material to music. The mood of the music changed with each verse and particularly vivid orchestral outbursts accompanied key phrases. Alan Thomas on two types of trumpet provided tender solos and Beyers was, once again, a tirelessly sensitive violin soloist.”     …

*****

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Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Conductor Matthew Coorey’s reduced strings scared with  Hermann’s Psycho film music; impending doom mesmerising a rapt audience with  memorable hacking down-bows of screams and murder. “Violins did it!”

With Aaron Copland one is in a deepest Appalachian Spring.  Mysterious countryside, wide skies, gentle mountains. A story of lovers, country  folk, all encompassed by deliciously lop-sided rhythms, hymns, fiddlers and  square-dancers. Smiling pastoral music, not a gun in sight. All obviously  enjoyed by the players, fully entering into the spirit of the music.”     …

*****

Friday Night Classics: A Night at the Oscars

Friday 22 February 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Carl Davis  conductor
Heather Shipp  mezzo soprano

 

No great film is complete without a memorable soundtrack. So, in the midst of awards season, join us as we roll out the red carpet for an evening of music from Oscar-winning films, with conductor and all- American showman Carl Davis as your host. We’ll sweep you from the triumph over adversity of The King’s Speech and the dark tension of Black Swan to the laugh-along antics of Toy Storyand The Muppets. Just make sure you’ve got your champagne on ice and your acceptance speech at the ready!

Programme includes:
Newman: 20th Century Fox Fanfare
Newman: Toy Story – You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995)
Desplat: The King’s Speech (2010)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess – Summertime (1959)
Sondheim: Dick Tracy – Sooner or Later (1990)
Shore: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Hamlisch: The Way We Were (1973)
Kander / Ebb: Chicago – All That Jazz (2002)
Tchaikovsky: Black Swan (2010)
Horner: Titanic – Suite • My Heart Will Go On (1997)
Warren: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
McKenzie: The Muppets – Man or Muppet (2011)
Bernstein: West Side Story – Somewhere (1961)
Davis: Ken Russell’s ‘The Rainbow’
Marianelli: Atonement (2007)
Williams: Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Suite (1977)
Rodgers: Oklahoma! – I Cain’t Say No (1955)
Rodgers: South Pacific – A Wonderful Guy (1959)
Rodgers: The Sound of Music – Climb Ev’ry Mountain (1965)

Encore: Paul Epworth and Adele – Skyfall

Dancing in the Streets

Tuesday 1 March 2011 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Carlos Kalmar  conductor
Steven Osborne  piano

Adams: The Chairman Dances 12′
Bernstein: West Side Story – Symphonic Dances 23′
Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain 23′
Gershwin: An American in Paris 17′

From Gershwin tapping through the streets of jazz-age Paris, to John
Adams imagining Mao Zedong and Madame Mao in a show-stopping
foxtrot – there’s no denying that American composers have got rhythm!
South American-born conductor Carlos Kalmar knows all about that,
and tonight he leads the CBSO on a high-kicking celebration of the
American way of dance. Expect some serious Latin flair in Bernstein’s
West Side Story dances, the smokiest of blues in An American in
Paris, and – at the heart of the programme – something completely
different. The superb British pianist Steven Osborne should bring just
the right mixture of poetry and panache to Falla’s enchanted,
shimmering Nights in the Gardens of Spain begun in 1911. www.cbso.co.uk 

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

http://www.birminghampost.net/life-leisure-birmingham-guide/birmingham-culture/music-in-birmingham/2011/03/04/review-cbso-dancing-in-the-streets-at-symphony-hall-65233-28264279/

“Anyone who says they “don’t like 20th-century music” should have been at Tuesday’s CBSO concert, from which they would have emerged smiling in acquiescence at its sheer approachability.

This was a programme to die for, beginning with a tautly driven account of John Adams’ The Chairman Dances under the decisive baton of Carlos Kalmar.”   …

 

Review for this programme at Bridgewater Hall, by Michael Cookson, MusicWeb:

http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2011/Jan-Jun11/Osborne_CBSO_0303.htm